I was always mesmerized by the image of a hamster running around in a circle on a wheel. It wasn’t because it was particularly intriguing. It’s because I couldn’t understand why a hamster would resign it self to such an existence. In many ways, I believe that many of the “reforms” in education are resigned to the same existence of the hamster. I have become increasingly concerned that the newly adopted Common Core State Standards may fall into the “hamster and wheel” category. No, I am not a member of the Republican National Committee or the tea party who argue that the CCSS is an overreach by the federal government. Additionally, I do not support Indiana, Alabama, South Dakota, and Georgia in their effort to scale back the standards. However, I do agree with a tiny nugget of the backlash from the right. Is something so broad sweeping as the CCSS enough to ensure that all students are college and career ready?
One of the many arguments in support of the CCSS is the fact that the standards were voluntarily adopted by the states and that there is no curriculum attached to them. States, districts, and schools are left with the hard work in developing curriculum around the standards. I firmly believe that autonomy is a step in the right in direction. The problem? Education leaders throughout the states are bracing for the “new era of assessments” from two different consortiums SMARTER Balanced and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Although educators may be taking the time to put together the curriculum now, how can we be sure that the curricula is not dumped in favor of preparing students for these assessments. In other words, is the CCSS really curriculum-driven or test-driven like the last standards movement? Moreover, how can policymakers convince educators not to move back to the test-driven mindset when scores are sure to drop as the assessments have been described as more rigorous?
The Common Core movement needs to address whether it is test-driven or curriculum-driven. Our education system cannot take another decade or so of a one-size-fit-all approach to student learning. As the Common Core authors have suggested, the stakes are too high and the need is too urgent. Students struggled to reach the standards of the previous movement leading to states watering down or changing proficiency rates. The CCSS movement can become a failure if it indeed becomes a test-driven movement and/or doesn’t address of the needs of students who “fallen in between the cracks.”
How can we ensure Common Core success? Diane Ravitch, an education historian, on her blog describes the Common Core standards as a program that requires trust in teachers. I believe that teacher trust and autonomy is the direction that the standards movement should take. The Marzano Center describes the Common Core as a “a shift in the philosophical thinking about the nature of teaching and learning.” The best way to take advantage of the shift is by allowing teachers, schools, and districts to create the curriculum around the CCSS AND develop the assessments that will ultimately communicate what the students are learning. Providing the autonomy to the people closest to the students will ensure that the standards are relevant and evolving based on feedback from assessments and feedback. Furthermore, it will allow the standards to be differentiated for students helping to make sure that fewer students are left behind. Finally, it will position teachers in a way that ensure a deeper understanding of teaching and learning by giving them the bulk the responsibility.
I am excited and support the new Common Core standards, especially coming from a state that had standards that were largely generic and hard to follow. I think the CCSS come with an opportunity to break the cycle of passive teaching and passive learning and allow teachers to work like the professionals that they are. I am aware of the uphill battle in policymakers trusting teachers to do the work especially in the era of accountability. However, the aspect that is lacking from the accountability movement is ownership and that is the critical component that will drive the profession in the right direction. We have tried the test-driven standards approach and the results were mediocre at best. Common Core State Standards….Deal or no deal?
Added after original post:
In light of the new NCTQ report on the failures of teacher preparation, it is even more urgent that teachers are trained and given the autonomy to do the work necessary to learn, develop curriculum, and create/administer assessments for the Common Core. It will fill in the gaps that many teachers have after their teacher preparation and more importantly ensures that the people in the field are involving with the needs of the students.